By Steve Ginsburg
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The strong character of the Green Bay Packers and their confidence in each other are key reasons the club reached the Super Bowl following a mediocre start to the season, according to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay defeated the host Chicago Bears 21-14 in the NFC championship game on Sunday at a frigid Soldier Field, their fifth consecutive win-or-go-home triumph.
The victory puts the Packers in the Super Bowl against the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers in a mouth-watering match-up on February 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
"The biggest difference between this team and the previous two seasons is character and that we just believe in each other," Rodgers said after the victory over the Bears.
"If you look at your roster right now, the 45 guys that dressed (against the Bears), a number of them were either not with us at the beginning of the season or were not counted on to play a big role."
The Packers were forced to overcome some early hiccups in the regular season because of injuries to several key players but eventually found their form in time to sneak into the NFL playoffs as the NFC's lowest seed.
Rodgers cited unheralded Sam Shields, who had two of Green Bay's three interceptions against Chicago, and the outstanding play of linebacker Erik Walden, who was picked up as a free agent.
The strong-armed quarterback out of the University of California said he is still coming to grips about being in the Super Bowl.
"It still hasn't hit home," the 27-year-old, six-year NFL veteran said. "It's early but it's what I've dreamt about since I was a kid growing up in Northern California watching (San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks) Joe Montana and Steve Young.
"This is what I always wanted to do and it's amazing to know that I'll be living out my dream in two weeks in Dallas."
Rodgers watched from the bench as an apprentice to Brett Favre during his first three years in the league but took the reins in 2008 when the future Hall of Famer moved on.
The Packers' appearance in the Super Bowl is a surprise considering their path there.
Green Bay won the last two games of the regular season to secure a playoff spot before reeling off improbable road wins over Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago, making them the first number six seed from the NFC to reach the title game since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990.
"We got hurt," said Rodgers. "We were 8-6 and we had to win five elimination games and that's what makes it that much sweeter."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)